Balancing Body Image and Being Healthy

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I have several nieces and nephews, and the oldest of my nieces are 13 and almost 10. They are in the middle of puberty and “tween” and teen life. They have the awareness of their bodies and their place in society that only comes after young childhood starts to fade away. My opinion is that positive self-image is important for everyone, but especially important for young girls. It’s crucial for them to have a foundation of self-confidence and positive self-esteem to combat the images and messages that “society” will expose them to.

When my nieces were younger (and before I had my own child), I remember making comments about my body or referring to myself as fat. They would correct me and say I wasn’t fat, or would give me a compliment, and I realized that I needed to be more careful about the self-image I was projecting to them. I didn’t want them to feel self-conscious about the way they looked, so I needed to be more careful about what they heard me saying about myself and other people.

This was a definite wake-up call for me also, as I hadn’t even realized I was verbalizing these thoughts until they responded to it. It had become so much of a second-nature that it took children to point it out to me. And the funny thing is, I have always considered myself a confident person. My weight has definitely fluctuated over my adult life, but even when I was heavier, I usually still felt “good” about myself. So it was interesting to me that I was still saying negative things about myself in front of others…messages I was subconsciously receiving from society, perhaps? This reminds me of the scene in Mean Girls (undoubtedly one of the best movies ever) where the teen girls take turns stating what they hate about their bodies, but the girl who grew up in Africa doesn’t really understand why this is a thing they are doing. I think it’s commentary on the fact that this behavior is taught to young girls through what we say to ourselves and each other, and through media images that bombard us constantly.

But, on the other side of the coin, there is the idea of teaching kids how to make healthy choices regarding food. This became especially important to me after having my son. This was another area where I needed to set a positive example, and I completely changed the way I ate, along with what I feed my family. I want my son to learn about how to eat healthily and take care of himself, but also want him to have some “fun” regarding food choices. (i.e.-liking veggies and fruits but also having treats from time to time.)

I have had many conversations with my sister and other friends about how to balance these two ideals. As a parent or aunt or uncle or another significant person, this can be really difficult! It’s hard to find the balance between appreciating your own unique body type, embracing your looks as only part of who you are, feeling good about yourself, and also eating healthy. I don’t want the children in my life to feel guilty or freak out if they eat poorly at times, but also want them to place importance on their food intake enhancing their health.

The best I have been able to come up so far with is to set an example of what I’m trying to teach, and to make sure I’m always using encouraging words with children. Hopefully laying down a foundation of positive self-esteem will help combat the doubts and insecurities that come as we get older. And since I’m far from perfect, showing them that trying our best (in this and other aspects of life) is always good enough!

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Andrea Connell is social worker, wife, and mom to a smart, active, and sweet toddler, Brady. Originally from Lexington, OH (not Kentucky as commonly thought!), she moved to Columbus in 2001 to attend college at The Ohio State University, and it has been home ever since. She earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work, and has worked with children in some capacity for over ten years, including as a therapist, case manager, and early intervention service coordinator. She now works full-time for a large social service agency, but a flexible schedule allows her to manage work, motherhood, and domestic duties and keep (somewhat) sane. She met her husband, Brian, through mutual friends about six years ago and they have been married since 2013. Andrea loves living in Columbus and enjoys exploring all the fun places, events, and festivals that the city offers. Most weekends, you can find her and her family at the Columbus Zoo or any park that is conducive to expending toddler energy. She loves spending time with her friends and extended family, which includes ten nieces and nephews! Other interests include reading (when she can stay awake long enough to do so), occasional date nights with her husband, texting instead of talking on the phone, local coffee shops, live music, and attempting crafty projects that may or may not get finished.